Police lieutenant involved in Kuiper case sues City of Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Grand Rapids police lieutenant facing termination over how he handled an alcohol-related crash involving an assistant prosecutor is suing the city, saying recordings made the night of the crash on what was thought to be an unrecorded line shouldn’t be used against him.

The attorney for Lt. Matthew Janiskee says the line has been recording conversations for two years, exposing the city to all sorts of legal trouble.

City officials want to use recorded conversations involving Janiskee in its case against the 21-year veteran, who has a termination hearing set for March 7.

That, says attorney Andrew Rodenhouse, is a violation of federal wiretapping law and Janiskee’s Fourth and Fourteen Amendment rights to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Lt. Janiskee doesn’t want to take this route; unfortunately, he’s been put into a position where he has to,’’ Rodenhouse said. “I don’t think the city truly understands the potential consequence of recording this line.’’

City leaders essentially opened a can of worms when they filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking access to the recordings, Rodenhouse said.

“We believe somebody at the city intentionally recorded this line and that would be a clear violation of the law,’’ Rodenhouse said. “I know the city has said that it’s inadvertent, but they’ve failed to tell us how it was inadvertent. Even if it was inadvertent, it doesn’t mean you open it up.’’

The line is often used by officers to make personal phone calls and also for investigative purposes, he said. The frequency of the recordings, and the number of people involved, Rodenhouse said, could potentially expose the city to $100 million in penalties.

“Which begs the question: Why all this just to terminate three officers who exercised their discretion,’’ Rodenhouse said.

The class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids is on behalf of people who’ve had “thousands’’ of personal phone conversations secretly recorded without their knowledge or consent, Rodenhouse said.

City officials on Friday declined comment, saying they had not seen a copy of the 46-page lawsuit.

The recordings were made the night then-assistant prosecutor Joshua Kuiper was involved in an alcohol-related accident after leaving a party for outgoing Prosecutor William Forsyth.

Officer Adam Ickes called police headquarters to report that Kuiper was “hammered,’’ court records show. The city says Janiskee told Ickes to call back on a line thought to be unrecorded. Turns out it was.

The city filed a suit in federal court asking a judge to rule that five phone calls involving Jasiskee, Ickes and Sgt. Thomas Warwick be made available.  The recordings do not violate federal wiretapping and eavesdropping laws, even if they were inadvertently recorded, the city contends.

Kuiper was arraigned three weeks ago on a felony charge stemming from the Nov. 19, wrong-way crash on Union Avenue SE. He was initially ticketed for going the wrong way on a one-way street and given a ride home.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting, who was appointed to look into the case, recommended criminal charges against Kuiper, who resigned shortly after the accident.

The most serious charge is reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Kuiper, 42, also is charged with a misdemeanor count of moving violation causing serious impairment of a body function, which carries a 93-day term.  A preliminary hearing is set for early March.

Investigators say after leaving the retirement party at a downtown Grand Rapids restaurant, Kuiper slammed into a parked car, injuring a man retrieving his coat from the vehicle.

Daniel Empson last month filed a civil lawsuit against Kuiper, saying the impact "catapulted'' him 60 feet backward into the intersection of Union Avenue and Kellogg Street SE, "causing significant physical and mental injuries.''

As part of the investigation, Getting did not recommend criminal charges against the three Grand Rapids police officers involved in the case.

The city launched termination proceedings against all three. Ickes last week agreed to a 30-day unpaid suspension. Warwick this week agreed to a demotion and a 160-day unpaid suspension.

Janiskee is the last to face a hearing. Rodenhouse, who filed the federal lawsuit on Janiskee’s behalf, says he believes the city is “throwing him under the bus.’’

“He would love to continue his service with the Grand Rapids Police Department,’’ Rodenhouse said. “If they still terminate him, he’s entitled to get that money that he would have got through his paycheck.

“I don’t see why they would want to proceed that way,’’ Rodenhouse added. “Essentially, you end up paying the money anyway, but without a highly-decorated and highly-trained employee.’’

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